Online writing

In this resource, we will review how to communicate online effectively and appropriately for university assessments so that you get the most out of your academic experiences online.

What is online writing?

Online writing is the ways in which we communicate online through text, for example in a blog post, on social media or through comments. Writing online differs greatly from other forms of writing, as online technologies allow us to easily communicate with a wide audience and offer exciting functionalities that can aid us in creating engaging and informative texts.

Some subjects in your course may require you to produce an assignment or components of an assignment using an online platform such as a blog. Also, as a future professional you may be expected to acquire and demonstrate skills in establishing and maintaining a professionally presented online presence whereby content can be created from university assignments.

Below is an example of the type of assignment you could be asked to complete online.

Example

Once you have been allocated your topic, record your experiences, thoughts, observations and progress throughout the semester on Twitter, using the class hashtag #the subject code and any other hashtags of your choice. You may also use other online platforms in addition to Twitter, such as a blog, as long as you also update this on Twitter.

What value do online assessments offer me?

Writing online for academic purposes can be a rewarding experience as you are able to practice and refine your writing skills, create networks all around the world with likeminded people and learn about different media and topics you usually would not use in a traditional academic setting.

Online assessments can also form a portfolio of work you could show a potential employer. They offer a refreshing take on learning subject content where you can extend your learning. You can interact with your peers and others through comments, gain instant feedback, review your work at a later date and see how much you have changed or have learnt.

Online platforms you may be asked to use include:

Writing online for assessments

When you communicate online for an assessment, there are a few key things you should consider. 

Different to other academic writing styles

Whilst some online writing platforms such as a blog post require the structure of an introduction, body and conclusion, it still differs greatly from other academic writing styles. It is important to remember it is not just an essay or report written in an online space; rather, it involves writing to a global audience on a medium that is easily accessible. Depending on your assessment requirements, you will most likely have a lot more freedom online, where you can write in a more personal style about things that interest you. 

Your audience

The first thing to consider always is that you are writing for a global audience. Even though your content may be for your university studies, it is public and accessible to anyone. Others haven’t necessarily attended the lecture or know what subject you are discussing. When writing, consider both your target audience (i.e., your classmates and tutor) and the global audience who may come across your blog. Assess these things when you are working out which writing style to use and what information you wish to share.

Further, it’s good practice to avoid using foul language or colloquialisms that will turn readers off or worse, offend them. Don’t assume that your readers have the same religious or cultural beliefs and attitudes as you

Take full advantage of the Internet

The Internet offers a full range of exciting additions you can add to your online writing. This will not only make it a more enjoyable experience for the reader by breaking up the post, but it will also help to reinforce your point. These media can include links to further information, embedding videos into your blog post, sharing images, adding GIFs, commenting and interacting with others and adding an audio clip. Using such media helps to keep your writing succinct, however, be selective to get your message out.

Online communication etiquette

When writing or communicating online, there are a few etiquette rules to keep in mind.

Write meaningful content

The key to successful online communication is to stand apart through style, formatting, avoiding of spelling and grammar mistakes, and overall professional presentation. This can be achieved by following the below points when communicating online.

  • Research: A well-informed piece of content will get more traction than one that is not.
  • Be original: Commit to creating original content as this will build your unique contribution to the subject and therefore draw more attention to your blog.
  • Stay on topic: Does the heading match the content of the post? Ask yourself ‘Do my readers need to know that?’
  • Don't go on and on, keep it short.
  • Be consistent: Determine your style and tone and stick to it so you attract the readers you want.
  • Style: Write in a way that is suitable to your audience and use an active voice.
  • Add value: Do not just repeat what is out there, rather add your own (well-informed) opinion and reflections to the topic.
  • Questions and support: Ask questions that probe and will shed new light on a topic.
  • Make it look good: Use what the Internet has to offer such as themes, easy navigation and images.
  • Use links: Make sure they work, have descriptive labels and are relevant otherwise you will not look credible.
  • Use hashtags and relevant category tags
  • Edit: Typos, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes are easy to make. You will look much more credible if your posts are error free.

Communicate with others appropriately

  • Participate: Actively participate in discussion activities; this is your learning opportunity.
  • Respond: Monitor activity and respond to conversations and topics that relate to you. If you don’t you will come across as a novice. A simple thank you is better than silence, and you can take this further by visiting their blog, and leave a comment on one of their posts.
  • Comment: Saying ‘great post’ or ‘I agree’ or ‘me too’ is nice but not particularly valuable as it creates clutter and frustration. Think of something valuable to say that relates to the topic, readings or compliment the research/work that has gone into informing you on a topic. Try to add depth to a discussion rather than simply agreeing to what has been said. Comment sections can become content rich, fuel discussion and add a lot of value. Avoid going off topic, or including irrelevant links. It can be beneficial to challenge an idea but negative and personal comments are never helpful. Avoid repeating comments by making sure you read previous posts.

Attribute content

Ensure all content not of your own creation is properly attributed. Failure to attribute accordingly other people’s work is plagiarism, and can result in trouble. Ensure you acknowledge correctly all content of which you are not the author and to those who have shaped your thinking or have inspired you. Read your assignments requirements for a referencing guide (such as Harvard style), however, if they do not specify, the rule of thumb is to be cautious now and link to and acknowledge your sources, rather than be embarrassed later. If you are not sure who wrote the piece of content you are using, at least link to the source of the content.

Avoid trouble

Because the Internet is an open space it is possible for you to come across some sort of disagreement or unwanted interaction. This can include problems with your content or from unwelcomed followers and comments. Blogs and Twitter attract spam followers, make sure that you have set your comment preferences to approve the first comment by anyone new, as this way you’ll catch any spam that gets through the filter. WordPress will also send you an email every time someone posts so remember to check email as this is a quick way to catch any problems. If someone leaves a negative comment on your blog or spams you, do not feel obligated to leave it in your comment section. Delete it quickly.

The posting of content can lead to trouble as well as other people may find it offensive. Remember you are representing yourself in a public context so ensure you align it to the professional values that you regard as important. Further, it’s very important to your writing practice that you think carefully about the impact of what you might say. In a university context you should avoid expressing opinions that might be sufficiently offensive as it could bring about a legal involvement.

Further resources